Alcohol May Play Dual Role in Some Cases of Elder Abuse

Small study suggests victims may have problems with substance abuse, mental illness, other conditions

FRIDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- Seniors who suffer elder abuse are more likely to be women, to have a neurological or mental disorder and to abuse drugs or alcohol, new research indicates.

In the study, researchers examined medical record data from two Chicago-area trauma units and compared 41 cases of elder abuse with a random set of patients over age 60 (control group) who were treated between 1999 and 2006.

The analysis revealed that 29 percent of abuse victims tested positive for alcohol, compared to 13 percent of the control group. "Past studies have shown that alcohol abuse by the perpetrator plays a substantial role and is strongly associated with physical abuse," lead study author Lee Friedman, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a university news release. "Our findings indicate that alcohol abuse among the victims may be an important contributing factor as well."

In addition, the abuse victims were also more likely to have pre-existing medical conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease, mental illness, alcohol abuse and heart disease, the investigators found.

Compared to patients in the control group, abuse victims had more severe injuries, higher in-hospital death rates, longer stays in the hospital, and were more likely to be admitted to intensive care units.

After treatment, 20 of the abuse victims returned to the setting where the abuse occurred. In most cases, the perpetrator of the abuse had been arrested, but 17 percent of the victims said they wanted to return to that person and not to press charges. Family members or intimate partners were the perpetrators in 85 percent of the cases, according to the report published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers also found that most abuse cases weren't identified until after the patient had been admitted or had spent several days in hospital. This failure of medical staff to recognize cases of abuse and to contact adult protective services in the majority of cases shows that health professionals need to improve their understanding of elder abuse, Friedman pointed out.

More information

The U.S. Administration on Aging has more about elder abuse.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of Illinois at Chicago, news release, March 22, 2011

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